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“There’s a war on love, just look around you, it’s hard to know who to trust.” — Miguel, “Banana Clip.”
If it’s true that love is the most powerful weapon against the forces of fear, greed and tyranny, few are prepared to take on the present onslaught with the same open-chested firepower as Miguel. The LA funk/pop/R&B/rap/rock auteur has already built an impressive career by creating sonically dynamic, syrupy send-ups to the allure and wonder of carnal pleasure, but on his latest album War & Leisure, he’s decided to move out of the bedroom, stepping into the harsh light of the real world; a landscape beset by missiles soaring over the sky of his city, and with a malevolent CEO fumbling with the levers of power.
War & Leisure is not a political statement per se. Rather, it’s a record that’s informed by our bewildering reality. I’d hesitate to say that Miguel has become full-on “woke,” but, as is true for many in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, it seems it’s become impossible for him to not at least to address how topsy-turvy our present dilemma has become. “I think War & Leisure in general is more about, not even the political aspect but just energy,” he told Paper Magazine. “It’s what’s permeating my reality, it’s what I feel and what I’m experiencing. I am more aware of what’s happening politically, socially and whatnot. I’m a lot more sensitive to it now.”
That sentiment comes into stunning relief right from the first track on the album, a guitar-reverb drenched banger called “Criminal.” Centered in a bouncing, frenetic wall of sound, Miguel’s voice rises from the din in search of a “a lunatic just like me.” He realizes the only currency in the world is finding someone you can trust, who can “Paint the sky with a brush fire.” It’s interesting to note, that even in a song as personal as this one, the outside world manages to find it’s way in. In his guest-starring role, Rick Ross toss in the first of the album’s two separate references to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest. The other one comes courtesy of J. Cole on “Come Through And Chill.”
Miguel saves his most brazen, clear-eyed thoughts for the album’s closing number, “Now.” Addressing his own-otherness, and the heightened otherness amongst a wide swath of minority groups in America, he offers an emphatic reminder to those who speak of walls: We are here, and we are stronger than the forces that would see us pushed to the fringes of society. “Let’s not waste our common ground,” he pleads in feathery falsetto. “We will fall for standing and watching, all in silence / Dear Lord, are we numb? Where we going right now?”
It’d be easy to mistake this line as a plea for respect from the MAGA minions out there, but as he made clear in an interview with Billboard, Miguel is not about to beg for his dignity. “That’s for ethnic people,” he explained. “And poor people. People who are lower on the ladder. We’ve all felt the oppression in some shape or form, and on that level we can understand each other. Let’s use that and galvanize and say no — we will not accept this.”
Because this is a Miguel album however, worldly complaints are consistently consumed by gorgeously produced, and shockingly explicit f*ck jams. The best of these is “Wolf” in which Miguel adopts the pose of the predator, stalking a prey that he hopes to turn inside out. His natural croon is slathered with a grit as he dances through arpeggiated guitar stabs. “Hide your kids and hide your wife / Tonight I’m killin’ on sight,” he warns. “No mercy.” He’s even more brazen about his intentions on “Come Through And Chill,” an uncompromising paean to the random hook-up. “Hello, stranger / It’s been a minute since we last kicked it / By the way, just got in town,” Miguel purrs. Then later, “I wanna f*ck all night.”
More than even his greatest artistic achievement, 2012’s Kaleidoscope Dream, this record feels like a fully immersive experience. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there isn’t an instantly obvious standout single to be found. Even the biggest candidate, his simmering collaboration with Travis Scott, “Sky Walker,” feels apiece with everything else. As soon as you push play on War & Peace, the music washes over you like warm bath water. You become wholly submerged in this violet-hued world of dreamy guitars, pounding drums, mesmerizing synths, and well-placed entendres.
For most of his career, Miguel has been an artist content to look inward, or at the very most, across the span of the bed at a face nestled contentedly in the opposite pillow. On War & Leisure, those views remain, but the added dimensions, the outside concerns pay major dividends. It’s impossible to ignore what’s happening in the world. Love is a weapon, and Miguel wields it like a samurai.
War & Leisure is out now via RCA Records. Get it here.